LACUS meeting: Evidence Based Linguistics...

Alexander Gross2 language at
Tue Jun 21 18:25:20 UTC 2005

Following up on the LACUS announcement, and also
following up on several discussions here, I'm pleased to tell
 you that I will be one of the invited speakers at their
conference this year.  This will take place at 4 PM on
Wednesday, August 3, when I will be speaking on the
topic "Is Evidence Based Linguistics the Solution?
Is Voodoo Linguistics the Problem?"

The abstract follows:

Is Evidence Based Linguistics the Solution?
Is Voodoo Linguistics the Problem?

A voluntary ten-question true-or-false self-test will be
distributed, enabling participants to silently experience
for themselves to what extent they may have been
practicing either of these two forms of Linguistics.  Of
these two terms, "evidence based linguistics" springs
from evidence based medicine (EBM),* a movement
that has recently made great strides among health-care
professionals to combat many arbitrary clinical pro-
cedures, unexamined assumptions, allegedly
authoritative rules, and institutional shibboleths,
along with advertising hyperbole and unproven claims
for impending cures or imminent progress, that have
begun to clutter the study of medicine.  "Voodoo
linguistics"** is simply an outgrowth from the book
title _Voodoo Science_, a term used by University
of Maryland physicist Robert L. Park to describe much
contemporary science, including widespread and often
government-supported superstitions concerning the
laws of thermodynamics, the causes of cancer, and
the space program.

Although the applicability of both terms to linguistics
may already be clear enough to many LACUS members,
the probable results of this test are likely to demonstrate
how deeply comparable voodoo elements, unsupported
by any defensible evidence, have crept into the study of
language. The first quarter hour will be devoted to
explaining the questions in the test, intended mainly as
a heuristic exercise which no one needs to sign or hand in.

A crucial section will explain how Guidelines for EBM
function in practice and attempt to set out a comparable
series of Guidelines for EBL, springing from the basic
principles and procedures of science—method, skepticism,
and replicability.   EBL Guidelines will clearly both resemble
and differ from those for EBM, requiring a review as to
how the former have been derived and are likely to be
applied in the future.

A final section will examine whether important evidence
about language, whether originated by linguists or rooted
in other sciences or springing from related areas, may
have been ignored or suppressed during the past
because of preconceptions related to these ten questions.
The sciences and fields of study discussed will
encompass—but not be limited to—cartography,
fractal forms in nature, translation studies, creating viable
laws and measuring units for language, neuro-
cognitive networks within language, and a complex
of physiological issues related to various language
processes.  The methodology of medical diagnosis will be
invoked in an attempt to describe the various stages and
degrees involved in language learning. It is hoped that
from these processes there may emerge a better grasp of
the full size and scope of language and a clearer notion
of what the desiderata might be for creating truly viable
and relatively complete theories in our field.

*Those wishing to learn more about EBM may find the
following search pages of use:

** Park, Robert L. 2000. Voodoo Science. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.  Professor Park also directs the DC center
of the American Physical Society and is a recognized media spokesman for his
profession.  He contributes a weekly
column on science issues to the APS website at:


You can find out more about this conference, including the complete program,

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